The Government Digital Service has said that making register data too dependent on software implantation has made registers “unnecessarily complex to use”, and has introduced a new format to tackle the problem.
Data registers should be more ‘moveable chunks’ – Photo credit: Aldaron, CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
The new format will also be used to make data registers, which are open lists of core government information on, for instance, local authorities, easier to understand for new users and as a foundation for increased security features.
The government describes its data as “authoritative lists you can trust” and they are used by data owners within government to manage and publicise core reference data and by developers to create APIs for new digital services.
However, in a blogpost Ellie Craven, a delivery manager at GDS, said that in order for the value of registers to be realised, the technical features that underpin them need to be able to “handle the complexity in the software rather than passing it on to users”.
She said that user research had indicated that all users have the same basic needs – to be able to download a copy of the register in a format that suits them and easily keep it up to date – but that the existing format was making the process overly complicated.
“We realised that making register data too dependent on our software implementation made registers unnecessarily complex to use, and introduced extra complexity for us when developing and deploying new features and tools,” Craven wrote.
GDS loses third leader as open data champion Maltby confirms departure
Government ‘must be wary’ of purely consent-based approach to policies on data use
Civil service chief John Manzoni urges change as data revolution ‘comes for government’
Unlocking the power of big data
To address this, the GDS data team has created what it described as a Register Serialisation Format, which will make data more portable so it can be used and moved separately from the software used for hosting registers on register.gov.uk.
The format can contain a complete description of a particular register, meaning that an exact copy can exit in other software or products being used by data owners or service design teams, she said.
For data consumers, it means that they “don’t need to know or understand the structure of the register model before requesting the data through the API”, allowing them to download the entire structure of a register in one file, and one API call.
Meanwhile, the format makes it easier to keep the copy up to date, because it makes each update and download, so users can choose just the entries and changes they don’t already have from previous downloads.
Craven also said that having an intermediate serialisation format means that data owners can keep using the same data format they already use, saying: “Behind the scenes, the data can be converted into the intermediate format before it’s loaded into the relevant register.”
The new format will also be used by the data team as a way of supporting future changes to registers on security, usability and data integrity.
“In making registers a more easily moveable chunk of data within our software implementation, we’ve laid the foundations for developing some key user features as elements attached to, but independent from, the register platform software,” Craven said.
“This will make it easier for users to get started with registers, because they won’t always need to manage their own version of the software to meet simple use cases.”
The team will also create a toolkit for users so they can select elements from it without having to work with a single, very large piece of software if they don’t need it.
Additional security features will also be available for data owners when updating their registers. One of the crucial parts of providing a dataset is to prove its integrity, and the new Register Serialisation Format will contain this proven integrity within the same file, so the integrity will be as portable as the data.